Sunday, 1 November 2015

Paddles & Polar bread - a review

I've spent a good deal of my life racing through nature; peddling a mountain bike as fast as I can, running trails, flying down mountains on a snowboard or speeding around the country on various fossil fuelled means of transport. I've even raced across a few Scottish lakes in a canoe, though my experience in them remains fairly limited.

Following some positive reviews on Facebook of a book called 'paddles & polar bread' I decided to order a copy and its been a delight to read; awakening a fire within me for a canoe adventure.
The book recalls the story of five men undertaking a canoe trip to Sweden. Told from the viewpoint of Dave it recalls the weeklong journey around the Swedish lake Stora Le. Those hoping for a harrowing tail of triumph over adversity would be disappointed, for this is not the books purpose; nor is it to pass on expert advise on bushcraft or canoe adventuring.

Instead, the book best conveys that bond between friends and an experience shared. The book use the term 'companionable silence', a term that when I read it immediately encapsulated all those moments i've had with great friends and family sat around a campfire at the end of a long day. A moment not always experienced when racing but so often found when involved in that wonderful pastime called 'bushcraft'.

Perhaps it's my ageing body telling me to finally slow down a bit, but seeking out those moment of quiet enjoyment now seem more important than pushing myself to run over a mountain or to cross the country in just a few days. By the end of the book I was mentally packing my bag and searching for canoe trips to undertake.

The thing I loved most about this book were the subtle messages it conveys; that adventure is achievable to all of us, it's not always about enduring hardship, pushing your limits or tackling challenges. That adventures are sometimes about being a little outside your comfort zone doing something different from your normal everyday life. That being equipped with knowledge and not more material possessions gives you the chance to experience what other miss and go where others do not normally tread.

In summary a great read that serves as a reminder that not all challenges in this life are physical and that the greatest times in your life can be found well away from modern life.

Now, where did I put my paddle?

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The Shipwrights Way

Waking under a canopy of oak leaves, I watched the sun slowly rising and the small glade begin to fill with light. A dry and still night just off the trail but in sight of the sea meant that now warm and cosy in my bivi bag I could spend some time reflecting on the journey so far while watching dawn break over the pebble beach. We’d left Bentley station at the start of the shipwrights way the previous morning around 10am and followed the trail forty miles to the south coast and Hayling Island. As routes go I was impressed with the diversity of trail and scenery; routes like the downs link are very consistent in the terrain you are cycling on, with no major hills to navigate and are quite busy and well used. In contrast I think we only saw a handful of people on the first 30 miles of the shipwrights way, following the distinctive blue and white markers that mark the trail to the coast.

Beautiful villages to pass through

Travelling at a leisurely pace we’d taken time to photograph statues, admire the views and stop for lunch in the small village of Liss. The route so far had been gravel paths, muddy tracks and some small road sections and we’d both commented on how suitable the route was for mountain bikes rather than hybrids or road bikes. The route is still unfinished but we managed to find suitable connections though there were some areas where additional signage would have helped. 

At Buriton the route takes a sharp upwards turn with a steep off road climb to a car park for Queen Elizabeth country park (QECP) followed by another rocky climb through the park before plunging to the valley bottom, turning left you then climb again to a point not far from your original entry point into the park, a shortcut that decided to utilise on the journey home which saved some long hill climbs.

Couldn't resist

Having not ridden any sort of distance since the gravel dash in May, I was concerned about my fitness and the beginnings of a cold did not reassure me that I was ready to take on a long trip. I’d underplayed the distance having decided it was well within my capabilities, instead choosing to focus on the adventure and given how I felt the next morning I think the approach worked well.

In the run up to September we’d agreed that weather would be the deciding factor on which weekend to make the trip, and a favorable forecast had sealed the trip for the last weekend in September. We were duly rewarded with glorious weather throughout. Having packed for the colder evenings we both felt we were too warm in our down bags and I had to strip off a few layers until the early hours when the chill descended and we reminisced over the first few trips in the colder months.

A fitting end to a great day on the trail
Saturday evening was consumed with checking out the beach and scoping out ideal bivi and fishing spots and after a hearty dinner of fish and chips we were tucked up early and taking advantage of the shorter evenings to secure some much needed sleep, it’s been a long time since I had 11 hours of sleep but felt it was much needed. The night passed uneventfully with only the moon waking me due to being very bright and full, our little glade was flooded with moonlight and despite the odd passer-by we were undisturbed.

Awaking before dawn we rose gradually and packed up ensuring we left no trace of us ever being there before heading to the main beach for breakfast and the convenient public toilets. 

Enjoying breakfast on the beach
My cold was beginning to take hold and a few flue tablets were needed to help alleviate the effects. We cooked up our porridge while scanning the horizon for ships and basking in the early morning sun before heading to the old ferry point to try our hand at fishing the incoming tide.

A spot of fishing
The tide was racing in and there were several fishermen in the area as well as a several smaller boats floating with the tide. With no fish caught we detoured past the local Tesco  to fill up our water bottles before heading to the other side of the island to try an alternative spot. Although again unsuccessful I enjoyed just relaxing and taking in the scenery, a real chance to relax.

The return journey was smoother, as now familiar with the route we were able to cover the ground faster without having to navigate as much. The shortcut around QECP was a blessing as my cold was impacting on my fitness and any unnecessary hills were willingly avoided.

A hearty Lunch in Petersfield and then a steady grind back to the car at Bentley saw the return journey dispatched in just four hours which meant I still managed some family time once I was home. I’m looking forward to another trip soon and hopefully will have a chance to try out my new Alpkit frame bag and hopefully get some weight off me and onto the bike.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

My Microadventure kit list

Over the past nine months Lee (@1MansAdventuresand I have been undertaking a monthly 
Forgot a spoon.... Doohhh
#microadventure. Although we missed one together in August (I was busy with DIY, kids school holidays and had been out for several separate trips) we plan to make up for it in the next few months. Our next trip will be an bike trip down the Shipwrights way to Hayling Island. I thought I would take the time to go through my kit list. The below list is divided up as a base list on which I then add more personal item or weather/distance specific items. As the majority of our adventures have been bike related I’ve added a bike specific section.  
I do like to mix up my kit, so sometimes I take different kit like a gas stove or sometimes a wood burning stove just to try new things and to test out new ideas. You can get away with less, but this is what has kept me comfortable on my trips.

Basic Kit
Rucksack – depending on extras, either Osprey Talon 22, Camelback Hawg or Berghaus 35+ (ideally as light as possible)
Sleeping bag (Mountain equipment down bag)
Bivi Bag (Alpkit hunka XL)
Roll mat (Thermarest) 
Stove and lighter – Gas bottle, lighter, burner and support feet all fit inside the mug
Mug (titanium) – ohhh shiny
Pot (MSR stowaway 775ml)
Thermal shield - helps shield the stove also nice to sit on
Food – Snacks in the side pockets, evening meal (packet sauces and rice work well and squash into the cooking pot. Breakfast is normally porridge).
Water – Currently a camelback and a water bottle but once the frame bag arrives I’ll drop the water bottle.
Head Torch (Alpkit manta)
Waterproof (Rab) - although not bike specific it’s easier to have one with a hood if it’s raining in the evening
Toilet paper – enough said
Travel spade - as above
Plastic bin bag – For keeping your bag, shoes and goods dry overnight
Tooth brush and paste
Spork – Forgot this once and had to fashion something out of an egg custard tart wrapper and a tent peg.
Basic First Aid Kit
Buff – versatile headwear at its best
Portable power pack – keep the phone topped up overnight.
Hip flask – Relax, drink, sleep well
Phone / camera
Hat – keeps your warm in the evening and overnight

Bike Kit
Bike – Obvious really
Dry bag (Alpkit dual 20L) - on handlebars with sleeping bag and bivi bag stuffed in
Seat bag (Topeak Aero) – Multi tool, puncture kit, tyre levers spare tubes, spare mech hanger / split links
Bike Shorts/ jersey/ socks
Bike Shoes
Bike Lights

Nice extras
Sleeping Stuff – Clean/ dry stuff to sleep in
Sunscreen – I’m ginger, I can burn next to a candle
Sunglasses – Like vampires, bright light kills gingers
Drybag  - Keeps the rucksack dry and items organised
Fleece jumper - toasty warm
Spare socks / gloves – feels like heaven when everything else is wet.
Paracord – for rigging the tarp
Pegs – As above
Down Jacket – keeps you warm in the cold months and packs down small
Waterproof trousers
Maps/GPS – Lost? No this is just a detour
Map case
Leggings/ fleece/socks/ arm warmers – mainly in the colder months
Fire lighting kit

Dry bags are really useful, not only for keeping out the rain but also for keeping stuff organised. I find it better to have several small ones and keep similar items together. It makes it much easier to grab one bag with all your fresh clothes in than trying to find a dry t shirt at the bottom of your bag while everything else spills everywhere.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

The sixccessful solstice microadventure

Our six microadventure hadn’t followed our original plan. We'd originally wanted to head out on the solstice, but life conspired to prevent this and although delayed, what actually transpired was a truly memorable trip with a distinct 'S' theme.

Having stated back in December that the solstice was a dead cert for a microadventure, a combination of DIY nightmares and other commitments meant that going out on the actual solstice would have been a rushed trip to a previous location. We recovered the evening with a BBQ at the kids school and despite having to carry two kids a few miles home, a great time was had and a lay in after a hectic week was very welcome.  Deciding to delay by a whole week meant a much more organised duo setting off after work on Friday on a ride to one of the Surrey hilltops with a wild swim planned for the morning.

Actually getting out the door on Friday was a bit rushed as I hadn't packed and faced the usual challenge of fitting enough into one bag, it was hot and I was stressed but eventually I got the essentials in without exploding. I'm certainly getting better at carrying less stuff and post Gravel Dash find it a lot easier to cycle with a bigger rucksack; but a frame bag is definitely on the list of next purchases.

Arriving at the chosen hill at around 8:30 we were both surprised how busy it was, there were groups of scouts and walkers hanging about, so we found a quiet spot and settled down to cook some food and enjoy the view. Feeling much more relaxed with the obligatory egg custard tart consumed we pondered life for a bit and I could finally feel the stresses of the week begin to fade away. 

Boys will be boys. Enjoying a log jump in the woodsWith the hilltop still busy we set off to find a better view of the sunset and stumbled across a tempting looking berm. Further exploration of the trail turned up a small tree jump and we set about sessioning the jump and berm as the light began to fade.  Singletrack- The first S of what would be six S’s was ticked off.

Heading back to the top we enjoyed a cheeky spot of Honey Jack and found a flat spot to make our camp, I was sure I heard voices…

Tucked in our sleeping bag we watched the clouds clear and the stars come out. Laying in our bivi bags we watched the international space station passing over, and it wasn't long before we soon fell asleep.

I was woken briefly around 3am by some headtorches and clicking walking poles which must have been a surprise for the walkers as we were  visible just off the main path, but despite being very visible nobody came to investigate.

Morning dawned to a beautiful sunrise and while cooking breakfast two walkers came down from the top and it turned out they had spent the night only a few hundred yards away from us; we chatted about our plans for a bit and then set off on our individual adventures.

Andy enjoying our early swim.Packed and ready to roll, we set off towards Guildford towards our Swim spot, riding the singletrack we found the evening before (which seemed to go smoother even with a fully loaded bike); we rode the few miles into Guildford.  The day was warming up nicely as we found our swim spot and after a baywatch style entrance we were soon splashing about in the river. We attracted a small audience as we swam, dodging the rowers and relaxing in the cool water.

After some careful towel work we were back in our bike gear and heading back towards Newlands corner for a cup of tea and then on towards home and I walked through the door around 11am and back into Dad mode.

Lee even made a video of our trip:

Friday, 26 June 2015

Time for Reflection

I've just passed an anniversary, one year since I stopped running. 

Not normally something to celebrate, so I'm putting fingers to keyboard to explain why, and to clear my head.

I still can't find the motivation to go out and run, but that probably a combination of being busy at work and in the midst of a house extension. Finding time to do anything other than those two things seems to be a tough ask right now.

But I don’t miss it, I've stuck to my objective of just enjoying what I do and focusing on creating for a bit and i've learnt a few things along the way.

The event that broke me was the London to Brighton Ultra (100km). I trained hard for that event, a full year of slowly increasing my mileage from my usual 10k distance to running past marathon distance. I did the Brighton marathon as a training run and ran 36 half marathons in a year, avoided injury, followed my training plan, ate healthily, all in preparation for the ultra. Then I failed to complete it.

Several things contributed to me having to pull out at the first medal point at 56 km. Mainly a strange recurring pain in my leg that comes when I walk (running no issue, cycling no issue, walking is agony). Due to the horrendous mud on the event I walked a lot, my leg played up. I pushed on, I got exhausted. I started holding my team up. The best option was to retire. I've visited doctors, had MRI’s and other tests but nobody knows what’s wrong with my leg. Motivation gone, training stopped. 

Life became pretty sedentary, I didn't want to train, I didn’t want to do events; in fact I got pretty good at turning people down when they asked me to take part in things. I felt disappointed with myself and felt I had wasted a year, sacrificing everything else to get in the training for the ultra and then failed to get the result I wanted.

So I decided to take a step back. Start doing things for fun, no competition, just good old fashioned type 1  fun (types of fun explained:

Throw in a bunch of less energetic stuff whenever possible and it’s been a great year.  A year to rediscover that it’s not all about racing across the country as fast as possible, it’s about taking the time to enjoy the journey. To spend time with great people and to spend time creating.

Creating memories, doing crafts, building houses and woodland camps; and most importantly rebuilding what is me. I may even find time to fit in the odd run.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

The Snowdon Adventure

Back in late 2014 one of my work colleagues asked me to organise a trip to Snowdon to walk Crib Goch, a host of invites were sent out and accepted and the planning began. The loose plan was to walk the Snowdon horseshoe, which goes up Crib Goch to the summit, heads down via the Watkin Path before heading up Y Lliwedd and then on to Cwm Llan and returns to the car park at Pen-y-Pass via the Miners’ track. Priority for the trip was a relaxed enjoyable weekend and not a test of endurance.

Fast forward 6 months and said work colleagues had abandoned the idea and this left Emma, Lee and myself as the sole adventurers on what would turn out to be a fantastic weekend in Wales.

I’d booked us into the superb Plascurig hostel ( which boasts a five star rating with comfortable and well-appointed bunks. Emma and I were staying in our own private room and Lee was bunked in one of the dorm rooms. We arrived early and got settled in, spending some time chatting with the friendly staff and guests where we learned that Jude Law was apparently filming nearby, hence the fleets of off roaders and film trucks in the area. The facilities in the hostel are superb with a contemporary design punctuated with individual pieces of furniture, large kitchen and dining area
and comfortable living areas. A host of showers meant at worst a short wait to get washed and the backdrop of Snowdon and the river helped set the scene for a truly memorable weekend.

A short stroll down to the river and along to the village gave us a chance to unwind from the journey and to check out the river. Lee announced this as the perfect habitat for dippers and we began to suspect that his interest in birds ran a bit deeper than first hinted at.  Shortly after this the first dipper was spotted and ever since it’s been our most sort after bird.

Over a decent evening meal (thanks Emma) we discussed the possible routes to take. Knowing Emma’s fear of heights and my tendency to underplay the technicality of things (never trust me when I say “it’s just a small technical trail”) we agreed to modify our route and follow the Miners’ track to the summit rather than face the exposure of Crib Goch. At this point I have to confess to withholding that the route up Y Lliwedd may be more of a scramble than a walk, but hey there has to be a tricky part. Route confirmed, we retired with the aim of getting an early start.

Saturday morning arrived to a bright and clear day and I was surprised with the number  of people leaving the hostel at 7am. None the wiser to what this indicated we breakfasted and left at around 8am for the Pen-y-pass car park.

Which upon arrival was full.

Following instructions from the car park attendant we headed down the road about 2 miles and found
a layby with a bus stop opposite. A strong cold wind greeted us as we exited the car and after a short wait we squeezed onto a very full bus. The cries of sympathy for the late arrivals held no sway for the bus driver who’s clearly overloaded bus could simply take no more people. I certainly felt sorry for the dad and two young kids facing a half hour wait in the bitter wind.

Upon being deposited at the Pen-y-pass car park we did a quick kit check and then set off along the Miners’ track on the start of our walk. The high winds certainly made the decision to avoid Crib Goch more favourable and we enjoyed the gradual climb and shelter of the lower path while taking in the fantastic views along the way. With no time pressures and no kids to worry about we strolled along the Miners’ track to the start of the climb to the Pyg track, stopping for photos and snacks as we went.

The climb to intersect with the Pyg track was steep and we had warmed up nicely by the time we joined the main track and followed the stream of people up to the summit.
The wind was howling over the summit with a frost coating the vegetation at the top; and as we climbed the cairn for the obligatory ‘I conquered the mountain pose’
we struggled to keep our footing in the high wind. The bright clear day offered us impressive views of the surrounding countryside and we could see Ireland across the sea. With heat being stripped from our bodies we didn't linger at the summit, instead choosing to drop down into the leeward side of the mountain to have lunch, bundled up in our extra layers.

Taking lunch out of the wind
Our choice of lunch spot proved great entertainment, as with the café at the top closed (you can also take the train up!) we watched people searching for a toilet spot only to turn a corner and find three people watching them, which resulted in some hilarious rapid retreats.

 I collected a summit rock for our daughters rock collection and we began our descent via the Watkins path. The steep and loose path contrasted the gradual and well warn Miners’ and Pyg tracks we had used to ascend and we deviated off trail to take in the views around the ridge (translate as ‘we got a bit off track’) before beginning the ascent to Y Lliwedd.

Scrambling to the top of y LliweddThe trail soon turned to a scramble and Emma’s fear of heights reared its head, reassuring me that the additional exposure of Crib Goch would have pushed her too far outside her comfort zone.

Summiting the west peak of Y Lliwedd we stopped to enjoy the more sheltered view and removed a few layers as the temperature began to rise. I was glad I applied some suntan lotion as a precaution as the full power of the sun could be felt now the wind had dropped.

We then started our dascent (a term Lee coined as yet another of my “it’s all down from here” comments revealed yet another climb), following the well-worn path down gullies and steep descents to join the Miners’ track again in the shelter of the horseshoe. In high spirits we enjoyed a strange game of hopscotch with a veiled lady determined to be the first down. Fortunately we gained the upper hand on the next dascent, clinching the victory and reaching the carpark first.

A short trek back to the car and we were soon on our way back to Plascurig for a well-earned shower.

Suitably refreshed, our next port of call was obviously the pub. Our destination was the Tyn-y-Coed Inn at Capel Curig, a short walk (with obligatory dipper spotting) down the road from the hostel and we all enjoyed a hearty meal. I opted for what was possibly one of the largest desserts I've ever eaten and was certainly ‘calorie neutral’ afterwards. A few pints later saw a much slower return to the hostel and we ended the evening with some Jack Daniels Honey before retiring for the night.

Sunday morning saw us heading back home where our families waited. A quick stop for breakfast at the café next door to the hostel where Lee confused everyone by playing bird songs on his phone (told you his interest for birds ran deeper than first revealed) and then the long drive home. Definitely a highlight of the year and opting for the more sedate adventure in great company over our usual demanding adventures made for a relaxing and enjoyable time.

Roll on the next trip.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Deery me

I’m numb, well at least my arse is. I'm sat in a tree stand about 10 ft off the ground and I'm trying not to move. I've been there for about two hours and the task is made harder by the midges biting my hands and face. Try sitting completely still for a length of time and you suddenly realise how difficult it is to do; we're constantly moving; scratching a nose, moving an arm, it all happens without conscious thought. Suddenly stopping those movements requires concentration and the longer you’re sat, the more small things begin to demand attention. 

I slowly turn my head to the left and I can see Sam slowly scanning the woods for any sign of deer. It’s a warm evening but he’s kitted out in hat, gloves and several layers and I realise that this is as much for deterring the biting insects as about keeping warm.

Sam manages the deer population in the area of woodland where I own a small piece and he kindly offered to take me out and show me what it’s all about. We've already had some of the venison from the deer in our woodland and understanding more about the animals themselves is something I'm keen to explore.

My personal feelings on deer management is that it’s an important part of protecting the diversity of the woods; it prevents overgrazing, which reduces the food available for other animals and prevents starvation in the deer population. With no other apex predators to control their numbers, deer culling is an important part of countryside management. It also provides a source of food.

I'm interested in all animals and plants and actively discourage the idea of killing anything for sport or causing unnecessary harm to animals, so it was a real opportunity to learn more about this solitary animal.

In general I feel we have become detached from the food we consume, and that we have no idea where our food comes from or the life it lead before it arrived on our plate. I've only eaten pheasant and venison in recent times that came from hunting, but it’s an area I'm keen to explore further and I want to ensure I waste nothing of the animal, so gaining knowledge from people like Sam is an important part of this development.

For those worried about the deer, rest assured they all survived another day; there was a lot of activity in the woodland before we arrived and I think that contributed to keeping them away from the area where we were. We did see two deer, one was out of season and the other came out very close to our tree and took flight before Sam could move the gun.

One of the valuable pieces of information Sam passed onto me, was that trying to creep around the wood like a ninja wouldn’t work. The animals are used to ‘normal’ human behaviour and creeping about is not ‘normal’ this causes alarm in the birds and squirrels, which in turn alerts the deer; who then stay well away. I'll be testing this out in the future as I spend more time in the woods watching the animals.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Lessons Learnt

It’s doubtful that most people set out with the intention of getting themselves into emergency situations, although some decisions are so blatantly stupid they are bound to result in immediate medical intervention (countless YouTube videos and the Darwin awards confirm this). Rather, a collection of small errors accumulate to result in a serious issue. Fortunately a few minor errors on the Gravel Dash did not result in any major problems, but served as a reminder of a few valuable lessons:

Failing to plan is planning to fail – We probably carried too much kit (certainly compared to the racing snakes) but having a few spares just in case was important; the mistake I made was leaving spare clothes behind on day 2. I was lulled into a false sense of security by the very hot day one and a sunny start to day two. Although it never rained, the weather changed and the temperature dropped and if the weather had deteriorated further it could have been a problem.

Knowledge is not the same as experience. Researching methods on the internet is clearly not the same as practicing the real thing. Knowledge will tell you what to try when your normal method fails but experience will help ensure your techniques work in a given situation. The microadventures to date have shown me what kit worked, and on the Gravel Dash everything worked together to make it an enjoyable experience. My knowledge and experience of bike maintenance meant that I was able to quickly repair my stuck brake when it locked on shortly after the start.

Do your own race – We held back a bit at the start, not getting caught up in the early enthusiasm of the ride and were soon passing people on the first big hill of the day, where I went wrong was following everyone else later on. Which lead to:

Don’t rely on technology:

I had a gps in my bag but never used it, instead relying on OS maps for navigation (this was intentional). The map said right then left, everyone else went straight. We followed them as they had GPS devices and thought they had the right route, we were soon off track. We pushed up through some woods and my inner compass said left. Two Gps’s said right, one said left. Out came the map and an compass and we went left. I did make a few navigation mistakes along the way but we were always able to get back on track with a minor detour. Navigation skills are a key skill, but one you lose if you don’t practice.

Pay attention to the little things – I ended up with a bit of one leg getting sunburnt. I burn easily and had put on suntan lotion. However I did it in a bit of a rush and missed a spot; I spotted it before it got too bad but if I had taken my time I could have avoided the problem all together.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Folding Knife Pouch

This is the small pouch I mentioned I was making in my last leatherwork post; i'm rather pleased how it came out.

I finished the veg tanned leather with a light brown dye and a mink oil top coat. I've used an antique brass stud to keep it closed and it has a couple of slits in the back for a belt to go through.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Microadventures so far

Adventure…. The word conjures up images of hacking through jungles; scaling huge mountains and sailing vast oceans. Google ‘Adventure’ and a host of inspiring images appear to whet your appetite to get off the sofa and set off on an adventure of a lifetime. But for many (myself included) the choices we have made, commitments we have and our own fears prevent us from undertaking such grandiose journeys. 

I travelled a bit when I was younger, more again with work, but the quest for security (both financial and emotional) has led to family and work commitments that don't necessarily align with heading off on a jungle trek for a few months. So currently my taste for adventure is filled by shorter trips and trying to stuff as much as I can between a family, a 9-5 job and everything else.

Just to be clear, would I change those decisions? No, the stability and happiness from these choices has given me a family I love immensely, the opportunity to explore many different interests and to meet a lot of great people along the way.

When I read about the idea of microadvertures on Alastair Humphreys blog  ( @Al_Humphreys it struck a chord with me, and I resolved to undertake a year of #Microadventure. 

Joining forces with Lee ( @1MansAdventures we have set out to spend at least one night a month under the stars, preferably with a bit of adventure thrown in along the way.

Well, the months seem to be flying by and already we were into our fourth official adventure. We've started with the easy stuff, testing our equipment and braving the coldest months with locations we knew a fire would be possible. January was held in my woods (remember those choices I mentioned above). Comfy and warm, tucked up in my hammock was a great way to see in the New Year, it wasn't even that cold. 
Roll forward a month and our February adventure ticked the cold box with a light dusting of snow to ensure we stayed close to the small fire we lit. Waking to a clear and crisp morning a hot porridge added some warmth before we rolled the few miles home to warm showers.

March and April's trips were a little rushed. Busy months for both of us, and a trip to Snowdon saw us heading to a spot in the Surrey hills I have used on and off for around 20 years. We got into the true bikepacking on these trips with just our bivy bags and what we could fit on the bikes. One thing that’s abundantly clear is that getting the weight off yourself and onto the bike makes for a much more comfortable experience. Something I really need to sort out before next month Gravel Dash.

April’s trip was the most rushed to date, not setting off from home till late evening and getting set up just before dark. A trip like that shows you how much you can achieve in the hours between work days and we were home before 7am.

Interspersed with these trips have been a few other nights out in the wild and I look forward to them more and more, especially as the weather improves and the wildlife starts making more appearances.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Skeleton Knife Sheath

Moving the workshop has pretty much occupied my winter this year; thankfully all the major construction is now done and I found some time to do a leather project. It’s good to be back doing projects and creating again. 

I've started wet forming the leather for a small pouch my Dad wants for his folding knife and made this cover for a skeleton knife.
 I'm reasonably pleased with the way it came out as it's just a cover for the blade (its going to be kept in a waist pouch).

 I’m not a huge fan of the blade as I think the proportions look wrong but it seems sharp and fits the hand well enough. Perhaps a paracord weave to add some interest?

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Jack Pyke - Hunters boots

Time Tested: Six months


I’d wanted a new set of boots for use in the woods for a while and spent several weeks looking around at different options. I turned up an array of options from military style boots through to the good old wellie boot, but the majority of boots didn't seem to meet my needs at a price I was willing to pay.

With several boots already in the large pile of shoes that accompanies a growing family of four (of which 20% no longer fit anyone); it helped to have a specific task in mind for them. My hiking boots were good and sturdy but a low top and not wanting to trash them with all the kneeling down and trekking through the undergrowth helped keep them in the occasional use pile. My work boots lack support but are warm and waterproof, so my criteria was waterproof, sturdy, good grip and all at a reasonable price.

I tend to look at a range of equipment suppliers from bushcraft, military, outdoor and work wear to find the item I think best meets my need and recently found that equipment designed for hunters is a good source of reasonably priced, hardworking gear.  I was pleasantly surprised when I found the Jack Pyke Hunters boots on Amazon at just under £100.

I often struggle with fit on shoes, having both a wide foot and a high instep, so Amazons easy returns appeals as it saves issues trying to return items if fit is an issue. There seems to be a variety of sizing when it comes to UK sizing and I know that a size 46 fits me perfectly (UK 11 seems to vary between manufacturers from 45 - 46) and after checking the Jack Pyke website and Amazon reviews on the fitment, I ordered my regular size 11 and the boots fitted perfectly when delivered.
After six months of use my experience with these boots has been excellent. The boots are very supportive when clambering over logs, provide excellent grip when dragging branches and cuttings on loose ground. The full grain leather upper and a waterproof and breathable liner have shrugged off the worst of a British winter without issue. The boots are still flexible enough for me to drive in, which saves time changing shoes when I arrive at the woods, and the high rand on the front protects them well from scuffs and  helps when cleaning off the mud at the end of the day.  At no point have I had wet feet and despite several muddy areas of my woods, the high tops and sturdy construction have kept me dry throughout. The lacing system is especially well thought out with small pulleys allowing the laces to be quickly tensioned and the smooth running should hopefully reduce the chances of broken laces.

Summer may prove to be too hot for these boot as they are well insulated and they have kept me warm on several cold nights. Sitting round the fire with a spot of Honey Jack, i've not found cold feet to be an issue, so not having to toast my feet near the fire to stay warm has been one less thing to worry about. The high tops and speed laces come into their own when slipping out of the hammock or bivvy for those night time breaks, and slipping the boots back on in the morning always feels like a pleasure with such a comfortable and warm boot.

The vibram soles offer a solid grip but i've had mixed luck with vibram as the soles begin to wear, finding them slippery on wet rock so i’ll be watching to see how they cope. i've also noticed that several bushcraft stores now also carry Jack Pyke gear so clearly i’m not alone in spotting this brand and I’ll been looking forward to testing these further over the summer months.

Thursday, 9 April 2015


Spending a fair amount of time outside takes it toll on equipment; especially in the winter months.
The mud and rain soon find the weaknesses of your equipment and you find what lasts and what doesn’t.

My reviews are what works for me, they might not work for you, but they should help inform your decisions.

As a general rule, there is very little equipment I have used that’s been truly terrible. I’d like to think that’s because I take time researching what I want to buy.

I don't like to waste money, so value (that’s getting good usage from something for the price you pay) is the most important factor.

One thing that frustrates me about some reviews is that they give products a low rating for one small minor niggle then the next product a much higher rating with a host of failings; or worse they say something is the best ever and then next year they're criticising it for a major failing that ‘everyone knew about’.  I’m going to try and be more logical in my reviews so I'm going to include an explanation of how I rate things:

Something’s wrong. Possibly a design flaw or a major weakness.

OK – one or two faults, I’d probably not worth buying it.

Worth considering

Very good – for the money


I should also point out that I may go back and amend a rating if something new comes to light, perhaps a failure further down the road.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Hammocks and the Italian hitch

Hammocks are the marmite of the camping world; but love them or hate them they are my preferred sleeping option on a solo night.

Being up off the ground helps you stay dry in the event of rain and even though I normally sleep on my front I have found I can still find a comfortable position to spend the night.

My first night was not the most comfortable, but over the past few months I've perfected my set up (learning to sleep at a diagonal helped a lot) and have found hammocks to be comfortable and snug way to spend a night in the wild. My only observation is that during the winter months they are not as warm as a bivi bag.

I was fortunate enough to have the chance to borrow a DD travel hammock before I bought mine and ended up buying the same one for my own use.

There were two main reasons for this 1) Price – The DD is currently £49 which I think is very reasonable 2) versatility – the water proof base means you can use it as a bivi if needed (at the wilderness gathering last year not everyone could get a spot in the trees so we saw people using them on the ground).

Together with a DD 3x3 tarp it’s both dry and warm and the mosquito net makes for a pleasant enclosed environment if you need it.

I’ve added a few extras to make pitching easier, a hammock sleeve and some tree huggers. The sleeve makes setting up and packing up much simpler as you just pull the sleeve over the hammock and its neatly contained.
Tree huggers with karabiners and the Italian Hitch make pitching a breeze.

Getting your hammock adjusted is one of the keys to a decent nights sleep and after trying several methods I settled on one that works well for me. The last thing you want is to get all nice and cosy then realise you’re not pitched right and then end up trying to undo knots in the cold and dark; so simple adjustment is key.

I've tried a few methods of pitching the hammock, using just the supplied lines worked ok, but there was limited adjustment and meant retying the whole setup if it wasn’t level. Whoopee slings worked OK but were too hard to adjust with gloves on and needed too many karabiners which added weight. I experimented with various prusik knots but found they slipped and you ended up on the ground during the night. Friends have used hammock rings with success but again that’s more weight to carry and quite expensive at £14 for four and I wanted a simple system I could adjust easily and wouldn't slip.

I fell back on my climbing background and decided to try a knot called the Italian hitch. It’s a belaying knot so adjustment wasn't an issues, but slippage might have been. Here’s a little pic of how to do the knot:

Just add a simple overhand knot at the end to stop it slipping and you’re good to go.

Here’s my setup:

Tree hugger around the tree at a level height, karabiners on the end. Use the supplied hammock lines to make an Italian hitch (lines doubled up) and adjust to the desired height. Add an overhand knot to stop it moving and that’s it.

Since starting out on the hammock journey, I've added two scout hammocks for the kids to use and a camping hammock for the wife, and so far no slippage on the knot. Even with the kids swinging around in them they have stayed put. 

After a bit of practice getting setup takes a few minutes and that normally keeps the kids entertained for long enough to get the fire going and the kettle on.

An introduction

Clearly I have a problem; all be it not a hugely troubling one and one that could be seen by some as not a problem at all.

I've too many interests.

I’m what people might call a jack of all trades; some I am better at then others but most I’d like to think that I am fairly competent at. 
They fall generally into two main categories

a) Being outdoors 
b) Making things (I’m going to class repairing things in this category as I’m making things work again).
Fallen tree crafts was born of the idea of making things and maybe selling the odd bit here and there. The trouble is that most of what I have made sells before it gets anywhere near the shop, so the sites been pretty quiet for a while. The idea of expanding the site has been in my head for a while now and so there is a range of topics that I hope to cover off, but as this is me, expect some other bits to creep in. 
So, in no particular order:

Bushcraft, Outdoor living, Wood turning, Blacksmithing, Leather work, Knife making, Children’s crafts, Motorbikes, Cycling, Mountain biking, Kayaking / Canoeing, Kit reviews, Jewelry, Cakes, Photography, Technology, Microadventures, traveling.

That should keep me busy for a bit.